Monthly Archives: May 2014

Digi-scoping Light

 

Digiscoping is an aspect of photography that is as popular as ever. Here’s a cheaper, light weight approach in regard especially to adaptor that produces very satisfactory results.

Bluethroat, Kazakhstan. Shaun Robson

Bluethroat, Kazakhstan. Shaun Robson

Shaun Robson

(all photos digiscoped by Shaun Robson)

Since the early days of digital cameras Birders have been experimenting with the best way to get good shots through their telescopes. Fifteen years on and we now see the amazing flight shots that Justin Carr is taking.

 

The great thing about birding and digi-scoping is that there are many ways to gain satisfaction. Whilst some use the latest camera formats and specially designed brackets to get superb images of birds which are well beyond that of a regular DSLR when distances are involved, there are no doubt many, like me, who want to try and use regular kit, which is cheap and light weight. This short piece hopefully describes an alternative approach which, with practice, can deliver some acceptable results. Enhancing and not distracting from day to day birding.

The Kit

The Kit

In 2010 I started using a Canon Powershot S90 with my Swarovski ATS 65 with 30x wide angle fixed lens. I recently changed my telescope  to the fabulous ATX 85 with its 25-60x zoom. Shortly after, I changed the camera to the Canon Powershot S110. It’s early days with S110 but I am not yet convinced that I have really gained anything. Thankfully my partner’s using the old S90 so I can still borrow it from her if the need arises! The Powershot’s have the essential facility to store custom settings. This means that you can switch it on and have the zoom you want, the focus and exposure mode, ISO setting etc. This is a real help in trying to capture that unexpected moment. It also saves time wasting removing vignetting and fiddling with the huge number of variables that modern cameras present.

Northern Harrier, Vancouver, Canada, 2012

Northern Harrier, Vancouver, Canada, 2012

 

The key factor which reduces the weight, does not interfere with regular scope use and eases pressure on the bank balance is the method “connecting” the camera to the scope. A plastic piece of pipe crafted to fit is all that it takes! Having taken several key measurements I bought the closest fit from my local DIY store and with a little bit work in garage I had the perfect light weight “adaptor” for £1.09.

 

Connector ring on camera

Connector ring on camera

Connector ring on scope

Connector ring on scope

The vital statistics are the internal diameter of your telescope eyepiece with the eye cup extended. The external diameter of the lens on your camera when set to the zoom you intend to use. The latter needs to fit inside the former to give the necessary stability and ensure perfect alignment. The depth of the tube can be achieved with a bit of trial and error. Estimating it is easy, it’s the distance the camera is from the eyepiece which produces no vignetting. Best to over-estimate and then reduce the depth of the tube till you reach perfection.  You might be lucky and find the perfect pipe that requires little or no work. Otherwise a good file and some sandpaper will soon produce the finished article.

Snowy Owl, Vancouver

Snowy Owl, Vancouver

 

The Method

Given that this method involves holding the camera to the scope, minimising shake is critical. I therefore prefer an angled eyepiece on the scope. This allows me to set the scope up with a low centre of gravity by only partially extending the legs of the tripod. When I am really trying to get a decent shot (as opposed to firing off a few record shots of a just found goodie) then I also spread the legs wide to provide even more stability. The plastic ring means that when you present the camera to the eyepiece the picture should be ready to take and should be centred perfectly with no room for movement. Holding the camera completely still requires practice but it won’t take long before you find out what works for you. I no longer use a shutter release. I tried but it was just too fiddly and took more effort than it was worth.

 

Lapland Bunting Finland

Lapland Bunting Finland

Make sure that the scope is sharply focused on the bird before you present the camera. The beauty of this technique is that if the bird moves, removing the camera and refocussing takes a second.

 

Guldenstadtts Redstart

Guldenstadtts Redstart

In my experience talking to other birders, too many are tempted by too much zoom on either the scope or the camera (or both!). My best shots are achieved when I minimise both. With my current equipment I shoot at 30x on the scope (to prevent vignetting) and 50mm equivalent on the camera. This allows the maximisation of shutter speed which is of course the other key ingredient in reducing shake and an un-sharp or even blurred image. You can always crop on the computer when the pictures are downloaded. The Smew in the attached picture was more than 150m away yet after cropping a reasonable record shot of a rare patch visitor was achieved. It would have been easy to take a picture with the bird filling more of the camera screen but I know that getting anything even approaching acceptable would have been nigh on impossible in late afternoon January light.

Smew, Lytchett Bay, Dorset, Jan 2014

Smew, Lytchett Bay, Dorset, Jan 2014

I always set the camera to take the biggest file sizes this side of RAW, as I don’t understand RAW. I keep the ISO at 100 whenever I can but increase to as much as 400 in poor light. I set the auto focus to centre or spot whichever the camera allows, this increases the chances of the camera focusing on the bird and not the vegetation, especially when you operating over a greater distance. Following advice from other digiscopers I use the aperture priority setting, by always selecting the smallest f number I can achieve the fastest shutter speed. Given the often dull weather in Britain my custom setting is to over expose by 1 stop. On the Canon this can easily be adjusted when necessary but I find that more often than not this setting produces brighter and better images.

Steller's Eider Varanger

Steller’s Eider Varanger

 

Here in this article are few shots taken over the last 4 years at home and abroad. Whether you are after some beautiful pictures of birds or simple record shots for your Patch Watch Challenge I hope this technique is of interest and some help. Happy digi-scoping.

 

Red-rumped Swallows. Spain

Red-rumped Swallows. Spain

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Stijn de Win for introducing me to concept of “connector rings” in Thailand in 2009.

 

Shaun Robson

Dorset

 Black-winged Stilt, Lytchett Bay, Dorset, May 2014


Black-winged Stilt, Lytchett Bay, Dorset, May 2014

Surf Scoter, Vancouver, Canada, 2012

Surf Scoter, Vancouver, Canada, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

BBC Autumnwatch artist at Migration Festival

Among manydarrenandsula accolades he was commissioned to do a piece for the Duke of Edinburgh’s 90th Birthday as well as being artist in residence on the BBC’s  Autumnwatch  and demonstrated his painting on Springwatch (unsprung).

The Spurn Migration Festival welcomes Darren Woodhead to this years event: 5th-6th September 2014. Darren is an inspiring artist and he will be showcasing how he paints also be speaking and encouraging others to get started or find more of your own style.

Have you booked your Migfest tickets yet?

Tickets are now on sale! Please call 01904 659570 or email Yorkshire Wildlife Trust info@ywt.org.uk.

The Spurn Migration Festival runs from the 5th – 7th September 2014 and the prices are as follows: £14 for a day ticket, £21 for the weekend ticket and £8 for the evening lecture with delicious hog roast.

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Tickets are now on sale! Please call 01904 659570 or email Yorkshire Wildlife Trust info@ywt.org.uk.Spurn Migration Festival one

Tickets are now on sale! Please call 01904 659570 or email Yorkshire Wildlife Trust info@ywt.org.uk.

The event is hosted by Spurn Bird Observatory and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust in partnership with Birding Frontiers and Westmere Farm.

 

One and the Same

The Common Marbled Carpet – Dysstroma truncata is a very variable species and can sometimes cause a few problems with ID

By Tony Davison

When I opened up my Moth Trap this morning, there were two main highlights from an otherwise very poor session. 1) A new species for my garden and a new photo for my website – Currant Pug – 2) Four colour forms of Common Marbled Carpet, presenting me with a great photo opportunity to capture the different colour forms of this species.

Common Marbled Carpet is a highly variable moth and one form that is unmistakeable has a large orange central patch on the forewing. There are numerous other forms that are a combination of greys, blacks and browns that can cause confusion with the Dark Marbled Carpet – Dysstroma citrata. The best and most reliable feature to separate citrata from truncata is the central “twin-peaked” projection of outer edge of central band on forewing which is longer and more pointed on citrata. Common Marbled Carpet is now on the wing.

Common-Marbled-Carpet-61884179 Common-Marbled-Carpet-62014181 Common-Marbled-Carpet-62274183 Common-Marbled-Carpet-62344182

Tracking ‘pekinensis’ Common Swifts

By Terry

 We know very little about the migration route and wintering grounds of pekinensis Common Swifts.  This project, a collaboration between Dick Newell, Lyndon Kearsley, the Beijing Birdwatching Society and the Summer Palace, aims to change that by using ultra-lightweight geolocators.   
 

 

A 'pekinensis' Swift fitted with one of the ultra-lightweight geolocators.

A ‘pekinensis’ Swift fitted with an ultra-lightweight geolocator.

In December, during a BirdLife drinks reception coinciding with a work visit to London, I had a chance encounter with Dick Newell who, as anyone who knows him will testify, is passionate about Swifts.  He coordinates the Action For Swifts website and helped to organise the International Swift Conference in April this year, as well as being involved in all manner of swift conservation projects.

During our conversation, covering a range of Chinese birds, we spoke about ‘pekinensis‘ Swifts, the subspecies of Common Swift that breeds in China.  Dick waxed lyrical about how cool it would be to develop a project to fit geolocators to the ‘pekinensis‘ Swifts in Beijing to find out where they spent the winter (thought to be southern Africa), and what route they took to and from China.  I briefed him on the annual swift ringing programme that took place at the Summer Palace, Beijing, arranged by the Beijing Birdwatching Society (BBWS) and straight away his eyes lit up….  “Perfect.  Leave it with me” he said…  If I could speak to the BBWS about their willingness to participate in a geolocator project for their swifts, Dick would investigate sourcing some geolocators and arrange a visit to Beijing with Lyndon Kearsley from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, a very experienced ringer and a veteran of projects to fit geolocators to Common and Pallid Swifts in Europe.

A few short weeks later, with the generous help of Susanne Åkesson from Lund University in Sweden, Dick had sourced a total of 31 geolocators and we were arranging dates for Dick and Lyndon to visit Beijing to work with, and train, the BBWS folks to fit this amazing technology to the resident swifts.

Saturday 24 May was the big day and, after rising at 0400, I met Dick and Lyndon, together with Wu Lan from the BBWS (who has worked miracles to ensure the Chinese authorities were comfortable with the project) and by 0515 we were in the pavilion at the Summer Palace where the very efficient BBWS team had already erected the nets and had started to catch swifts.

Retrieving the first 'pekinensis' Common Swift (Apus apus) from the net.

Retrieving the first ‘pekinensis’ Common Swift (Apus apus pekinensis) from the net.

Lyndon set to work and, having trained several teams from the BBWS the previous evening about how to fit the geolocators, the first pioneering birds began to be fitted with their ultra-lightweight backpacks.

Lyndon Kearsley preparing the geolocators.

Lyndon Kearsley preparing the geolocators.

These geolocators do not allow the birds to be satellite-tracked – that still requires technology too heavy for a swift – instead, to collect the data, the birds must be re-trapped at a later date.  That is why it was so fortunate that almost all of the birds fitted with geolocators today had been ringed at the same site in previous years, proving that the individuals to whom the backpacks have been fitted are site-loyal.  This gives us all hope that there will be a significant re-capture rate next year, allowing us to find out for the first time where these birds spend the winter and what route they take on migration.  Exciting stuff!

Lyndon and Zhang Shen from Beijing Birdwatching Society fitting a geolocator.

Lyndon and Zhang Shen from Beijing Birdwatching Society fitting a geolocator.

It was heartening to see the interest shown by the BBWS and, despite the rain that persisted throughout, it was a real family occasion with many young children, students, parents and grandparents turning out to volunteer.  There were huge smiles all around when the swift carrying the first geolocator was released… It powered into the air, seemingly oblivious to both the special package it was carrying and the excitement among the group that, very soon, we will know much more about the famous Summer Palace swifts of Beijing.

The BBWS took the opportunity of the swift ringing to brief visiting school children about the importance of bird conservation.

The BBWS took the opportunity of the swift ringing to brief visiting school children about the importance of bird conservation.

Having come directly from working with Common Swifts in Europe, it was interesting that both Dick and Lyndon said very early on how ‘brown’ these pekinensis birds are compared with Common Swift in Europe and also how the call was closer to Pallid Swift than Common… We hope to record some calls over the next few weeks to enable some analysis and comparisons with nominate Common and Pallid to be made.

A huge thank you to Dick and Lyndon for sourcing the geolocators and visiting Beijing to fit them, as well as training the BBWS team and spreading the word about swifts at universities here; to Wu Lan and the team at BBWS, especially Ms Fu Jianping and Mr Zhao, who have been instrumental in making everything happen at this end, and to the authorities at The Summer Palace for allowing this project to go ahead and for taking so much interest in these special birds that have chosen this most famous of Beijing landmarks as their home.

Seeing this project set up from nothing in less than 6 months, the lesson that I draw from all this is that I should drink more beer!

Some more photos from the day below.

The data centre.  Volunteers from the BBWS log all the vital statistics during the ringing programme.

The data centre. Volunteers from the BBWS log all the vital statistics during the ringing programme.

Lyndon releasing a 'pekinensis' Swift fitted with a geolocator.

Lyndon releasing a ‘pekinensis’ Swift fitted with a geolocator with Dick in the background recording the moment.

 

 

Patchwork Challenge update

Birding Frontiers – PWC Early & Mid Spring 2014

 Who can deny the fun of this thing, never mind the way the Patchwork Team have inspired a whole bunch of folk like me to get involved. They’ve created simple frameworks and a bit of competition. I am biased of course having been out and found a Honey Buzzard this morning and getting points for finding an extra Bee-eater yesterday! It gets me out, gets me looking especially on the tougher days. (Martin Garner)
 

Here Ryan sums up and compares consecutive spring seasons:

Ryan Irvine

As PWC marches on through its second year and patchers throughout the country are enjoying the very mild spring it’s good to look back at what was happening in 2013 during spring. Last year’s spring could not be more contrasting in the weather from this year as the whole country suffered from a cold stormy spring, not really warming up for most of us until mid-June. So, with the mild weather this spring you would think that the number of species recorded up to the end of March and April would have been significantly higher this year but no… Last year’s cumulative PWC total was approximately 200 species and this year we just pushed past that figure despite more patches submitting scores. The end of April showed similar results with the 2013 total running up to 235 species and this year’s approximately 240 species. A cold spring isn’t so bad after all perhaps…

Common Sandpiper. Valued greatly when the first one of the spring appears on the patch

Common Sandpiper. Valued greatly when the first one of the spring appears on the patch

However, looking beyond the figures as a whole you start to see that the mild spring was better for more patches than last year. The patches on the south coast would pick up most early spring migrants in March no matter how ‘late’ spring may be for the rest of us but this year did see a large increase in the number of patches recording spring migrants in March.
Do the average scores compare favourably this year? Well, in a word no! Looking at the average scores posted at the end of April you see that the two years are almost identical, with 2013 holding a meagre 0.87 point lead! I had thought the points per species average must be higher this year as April produced more high scoring birds this year but again 2013 came out on top, although only by 0.003 of a point.

Caspian Gull- a staple Patchwork Challenge bird

Caspian Gull- a staple Patchwork Challenge bird

Looking at the highlights posted by our fellow competitors and you soon see that the two years are closely linked, with PWC staples Caspian and Yellow-legged Gulls, Green-winged Teals, Great White Egrets and Glossy Ibis all making it onto several patches both years in March. The other March highlights may not be the same but follow as similar pattern, this year’s Boneparte’s Gull could be replaced by last year’s Ring-billed Gull, this year’s Dusky Warbler could be replaced by last year’s Siberian Stonechat. As you can imagine the April Highlights pick up and this is where the two year’s may differ the most. In 2013 we struggled as a Lesser Scaup at Pugney’s was the only new highlight, supported by Purple Herons, Montagu’s Harriers and Serins. This year though the rarities arrived in abundance as classic spring species such as Short-toed Larks, Red-rumped Swallows, Kentish Plovers, Tawny Pipit, Wrynecks and an incredible record of Herefordshires first Bluethroat provided joy to many a patcher. So, perhaps there is a wee bit of proof that the mild spring has benefited patchworkers this year?

Tawny Pipit, nr Breil Nook, Flamborough. Finally flew into the right patch! Andy Hood

Tawny Pipit, nr Breil Nook, Flamborough. Finally flew into the right patch! Andy Hood

 

And this one flew over the past the Tawny Pipit- also on the ‘Flamborough Patch’.

Crag Martin 12.4. Thornwick6

quick look at Hemsby, my patch, and it seems that the mild March has definitely benefited my scores. At the end of March in 2013 I had amassed 81 species, 95 points and for the same period in 2014 I was way ahead with 93 species, 115 points. In 2013 I had not recorded a single spring migrant in March so that must be it, I must have bagged a bundle of early migrants this year. Ermm.. well no, only two in fact, Blackcap and Black Redstart! Why the big lead this year? I have had a wee bit more time on patch but not a huge amount more. Looking at my lists I noticed that I have seen 20 species in 2014 that I had not seen in 2013 by the end of March, that’s over 20% of my list!!

Black Redstart male e 9.4.13

I remember that in April 2013 I had an exceptional month catching up with the common migrants, including the first (reported) Spotted Flycatchers in the country, peaking in the two weeks between the 7th and 21st where I picked up 28 new species (36 pts). This year I was away for the most of the period and although I was on patch a similar amount of days in April as last year I had a pretty poor month finishing on 117 species, 146 points, a full 5 species and points behind last year’s total. Personally this mild spring has been disappointing and this is emphasised when I delve into BirdTrack and see that in 2013 I recorded 105 in April and only 86 this year. Mild spring, lots of easterlies = less species and points, perhaps I am thinking that the weather is a greater link to a good year than it really is.

Spotted Flycatcher  May 13

And now we are well into the final weeks of spring, May is here and the month has already hit new heights, 15 pointers and 12 pointers already been found on patches across the country and many more to come I’m sure. Enjoy the spring while you can, the days will be getting shorter before you know it….

as this is published… be watching out for one of these (currently on the Flamborough patch and viewable form the house this am)Bee-eaters_DaleForbes_TLSAPO 1

or one of these (we had a female this morning at Flamborough)

male Honey Buzzard, Flamborough, May 2012. Alan Walkington

male Honey Buzzard, Flamborough, May 2012. Alan Walkington

 

Rare Moth in me Trap

New for Flamborough, 6th for Yorkshire

Martin Garner

First off thanks so much to Mark Pearson and Keith and Clare Clarkson for the loan of moth trapping kit and great encouragement to ‘do something’ when I was a lot less mobile, and straight from hospital. Nick Carter too spurred me on. Ian Marshall has tirelessly answered my questions and is happy with the ID (and congrats on being new VC61 Moth recorder). What is it?

Pine Bud Moth 1207. Pseudococcyx turionella

Pine Bud Moth, 21st May 2014. Martin Garner

Pine Bud Moth, 21st May 2014. Martin Garner

Status in UK from UK Moths

Fairly common in southern parts of England, and in Scotland, but scarcer in between, one of several related species that feed on coniferous trees.

The adults are on the wing during May and June. They are quite distinctive with their combination of chestnut and grey forewings, and orange head and labial palps. Another useful pointer is the pale or whitish hindwing, when visible.

The larvae feed inside the buds and shoots of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and occasionally other pine species.

Status in Yorkshire

5 previous records, first in 1904. Last record in Vice County 61 in 1997. 1st for Flamborough (and East Yorkshire coast). From Yorkshire Moths

Grade 4. Rarities where there are very few Yorkshire records.  A good quality photograph or a voucher specimen is mandatory unless the observer is very familiar with the species.

pine bud moth in yorks